It is being described as the first ever British western – even though it is set in the Yorkshire Dales.
ITV’s new drama series Jericho is probably the closest thing UK TV has come to producing a homegrown version of the genre famous for cowboys and settlers.
The Deadwood-style Wild West frontier town depicted in the series is based on the community created by the building of the Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire in the 19th century – hundreds died building it.
The show’s creator Steve Thompson, a writer on both Sherlock and Doctor Who, says the series was partly inspired by the classic 1953 Hollywood western Shane, which depicted a gunfighter’s attempts to settle into homestead life before becoming embroiled in a bitter dispute over land.
The eight-part drama stars Clarke Peters of The Wire as a ruthless railway agent and Jessica Raine from Call the Midwife as an impoverished widow, while Hans Matheson, who starred in The Tudors, plays a navvy.
While there is none of the endless gun-slinging of a spaghetti western, the new ITV show, which airs in January, does chart the brutal and violent realities of living in a frontier shanty town, which has its own tavern and brothel, which comes with the mandatory kind-hearted prostitute.
Other classic western features in the drama include the drifters, the industrialists, the railways and the horses. Not to mention the hats and bonnets.
If successful, the series is being lined up to run for five years.
Thompson said: “It is I suppose like a British western. The western is a very broad church because we have seen some very violent westerns like those by Sam Peckinpah but also Little House on the Prairie is a western too. So that is quite a wide spectrum.”
“I was inspired by westerns like Shane, which are not about cowboys, they are about settlers and the people, specifically about the woman being central to that and the family’s life. Shane I think was a huge inspiration. So yes there are aspects of it.
“But for me what is exciting is that I have never seen a British western or a British frontier story. Actually there was a frontier, they did go out and conquer the frontier. I think the originality of that is very exciting.”
Clarke Peters’ character is based on a real Afro-Carribean man who was a navvy who gained great power in a frontier community.
Peters, who also starred in Notting Hill and Marley & Me, said: “I think that [my character] brings to the story a little bit of the old Wild West, which from what I understand did exist here, in its own form. Those little towns springing up by the viaducts were wild, were crazy, were lawless and I like the adventure of that… I like that he could be sheriff of that town, maybe.
“This piece opens up all those little avenues of history that seemed to have been closed off to us. I hope that people do take the time to investigate that even more because it might address some of the problems that we are dealing with at this time in history.”